May triggers Brexit talks and vows ‘absolutely steadfast’ support for Gibraltar
Britain is “absolutely steadfast” in its support for Gibraltar, Prime Minister Theresa May said yesterday as she triggered the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union and made clear the Rock “is covered” by the negotiations.
Answering questions in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister repeated the UK’s double-lock sovereignty commitment to the Gibraltarians and said the Rock’s concerns about “particular issues” would be taken into account in the Brexit negotiations.
The Article 50 letter sent by Mrs May to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, made no specific reference to Gibraltar, although it cross-referred to a White Paper that dealt with Gibraltar issues.
But questioned by SNP MP George Keveran and Conservative MP Kevin Foster, the Prime Minister was unequivocal in her response.
“We are absolutely steadfast in our support of Gibraltar and its people and its economy,” Mrs May said.
“Our position has not changed. We’ve been firm in our commitment to never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under sovereignty of another state against their wishes, nor enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content.”
“There is the letters and notification in relation to our withdrawing from the European Union and Gibraltar is not a separate member of the EU, nor is it a part of the UK for the purposes of EU law.” “But we are very clear that it is covered by our exit negotiations.”
“We are committed to fully involving them in the work we are doing; we have been having regular discussions with the Government of Gibraltar as we go forward and we will continue to work with them for the future.”
The Prime Minister’s message was welcomed in Gibraltar by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who addressed the Gibraltar Parliament shortly after Mrs May’s statement to the Commons.
Gibraltar will “be no victim of Brexit”, Mr Picardo said, as he insisted that “resilient and entrepreneurial” Gibraltarians would adapt to a new reality outside the EU.
“As far as we are concerned, this day brings us nothing to celebrate,” the Chief Minister said.
“But it also brings us nothing to fear and everything to fight for.”
Mr Picardo reaffirmed Gibraltar’s wish to remain British “now, during and after” the Brexit negotiations, insisting the Rock’s British sovereignty “is not in play”.
“Gibraltar will be no-one’s bargaining chip,” he added.
Yesterday afternoon Mr Picardo was also telephoned by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Robin Walker, who provided further reassurances about the UK’s support for the Rock.
During his speech to Parliament, Mr Picardo cautiously acknowledged the change in tone between Spain’s Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, and his predecessor José Manuel García-Margallo.
While “the jury is still out” on this, the Chief Minister said recent statements by Sr Dastis suggested Spain was also “seriously concerned” about ensuring border fluidity, the Gibraltar Government’s key concern arising from Brexit.
“This is a serious time and serious matters affecting the lives of people who live in Spain and work in Gibraltar are at stake,” he said, acknowledging the extensive social and economic links that extend across the border.
“This is not a time to inflame or shout at each other in the headlines.”
“It’s time to work to deliver solutions that work for cross frontier workers, the tourists who create a large number of their jobs and the children who cross the frontier every day.”
Mr Picardo also welcomed the British Government’s commitment to guarantee Gibraltar continued access to the UK market for financial services, where the Rock’s firms do 90% of their business.
And he said Gibraltar may be able to tap new opportunities alongside the UK as it negotiates new trade deals with countries around the world, in particular with Commonwealth countries that shared language and the common law.
“Indeed, we are in fact cautiously optimistic that we will be able to grow further and prosper even more in the future than we have in the past in the context of access to those new markets,” he said.
Opposition Leader Daniel Feetham said yesterday was “a momentous day” for Gibraltar, the UK and the EU.
He said the GSD believed there were four key goals the Gibraltar should work for in the negotiations, namely continued access to the UK market; access to new trade deals; access to the single market, should the UK negotiate this with the EU; and “a workable, sensible and reasonable” agreement to ensure frontier fluidity.
He also cautiously welcomed the change in tone from the Spanish Government but added: “We must remain extremely vigilant about this.”
“The view of one Foreign Secretary at this moment in time in Spain may not be the view of a different Foreign Secretary in the future,” he said.
He said Gibraltar must ensure it was not held a hostage to fortune by a “future Mr Margallo Mark II”.
The Opposition Leader also reiterated the GSD’s commitment to work together with the Gibraltar Government for the benefit of the community.
“We are ready, willing and able to work with the government to ensure the people of Gibraltar and future generations enjoy the same prosperity and standard of living we have enjoyed in the past,” he said.
Independent MP Marlene Hassan-Nahon also expressed her support for the government’s work in the months to come.
“There is only one way that we are going to get through this and that is together,” she said.